I stood at the door of my childhood home about to face the reality of my mom’s cancer. During my month long stay in in Africa hosting short term mission trips followed by six weeks in Scotland, she had spent the majority of her time in the hospital receiving chemotherapy. I waited–unsure. The phone lines in South Africa had been spotty and our lack of communication had increased my concern. I knew she had struggled physically, and I worried about the strength of her faith. I didn’t know what to expect.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered as rail thin arms encircled my healthy body, drawing me into her weakened core. I felt a rush of love wash over me.
Anxious to escape the reality of her present condition, we settled into the living room, thankful my recent trip gave us something new to talk about. For hours she eagerly listened to the tales of my travels, insisting on studying every single picture and viewing a non-stop string of videos. We drank countless cups of tea, and engaged in the communion of mother-daughter conversation. I could almost anticipate her questions, as I delighted in her observations, her wisdom. As the shades of evening fell across the living room floor, her perceptive eye detected one unviewed video.
I wasn’t ready to share it.
“Let’s watch your last video, and then we’ll rest.” Her motherly tone was inescapable.
“Oh, Mom it’s ok—let’s just say we’re out of Africa and call it a day.”
Our time together had been so positive. I worried about upending everything with an emotionally charged video, especially when I sensed her tiredness creeping into the corners of our beautiful afternoon.
Then I questioned myself. Why did I want to shelter her, predicting her reaction? I didn’t want her to feel guilty if she had been unable to find goodness in her situation, yet, I didn’t want to push her. Maybe African children fighting cancer, singing and praising Jesus, would be a gift of hope. They found a reason to sing Halleluiah in the heartbreak. Perhaps she could too.
I started the video.
A chapel of children, trees of IV poles towering high above their heads, singing in Zulu to the same God my mom prayed to every day filled every corner of the shadowy living room. “Do not pass me by, oh gentle Savior…”
And then she breathlessly asked, “How do they do that? How can I do that?”
My mom had watched these children standing stronger than the forest of IV trees looming over their heads, sharing the message of God’s glory, thousands of miles away in Africa at the Steve Biko Hospital. In their adversity, they delivered the message of hope planted in the sturdy oak of their faith. The children in the chapel focused less on their circumstances and more on the condition of their souls.
Why Can We Sing Hallelujah Even During Heartbreak?
Broken relationships. Health issues. Death. And we rejoice?
It’s not easy. There is a balancing act between understanding the gravity of a situation, and celebrating our expectation of the fulfillment of the promises of God. And yet, when we place our greatest emphasis on God’s grace we have confidence,
“He will give a crown of beauty for ashes.
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for His glory.” (Isaiah 61:3 NIV)
Jesus officially began His ministry after spending 40 days and 40 nights in the desert conquering the temptations of the devil. Immediately following, He returned to His boyhood home of Nazareth, went into the synagogue and stood to read Isaiah 61, continuing the reading from above. The Old Testament promised the mission, He fulfilled it.
As Jesus rolled open the scroll that had been handed to him, He announced that “the oppressed will be set free, and the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:19).
It was no accident this was the scripture He was given to read. The time of the Lord’s favor referred to the year of Jubilee. This was a year full of releasing people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to original owners.
As Jesus read from Isaiah, He announced His mission. He would provide the ultimate payment of the debt we never could pay on our own. He opened the door of grace, allowing us to exchange our ashes for a crown of beauty. He healed the condition of our souls.
He became the reason we can sing praises while we are sifting through the ashes. As we see in Africa, in a humble chapel filled with children, there is reason to praise Him.
Moment for reflection:
What is one way you would feel comfortable celebrating God in your circumstances?
How can you share a moment of beauty with someone who is struggling?
Dear Heavenly Father,
The practice of faith can feel counterintuitive when we are faced with the hardest of times. We know you promise to bring good out of every circumstance. And yet, we feel buried in the ashes of interrupted expectations and plans. We grieve when we focus on our losses. Help us to remember the open door of grace. We believe that we can praise you because you are our help when we are helpless, our hope when we are hopeless, our source of love when we feel unlovable. Amen